It’s an immense honour today to be launching the blog tour for The Mountain in My Shoe by Louise Beech. First published by Orenda Books as an e-book on 23rd July – when I downloaded it and started reading as soon as the “publish” button was pressed – this wonderful book will be available in paperback on 30th September.
A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.
I attended Louise’s London launch party last week at Waterstones Piccadilly, and it was such a pleasure to be able to share a rather special evening. And now, here’s a rather special guest post…
All writing is a tribute. We may not be fully aware of those tributes as we write, but they are there. Our words are tribute to our memories. To the things we’ve seen. To places we’ve visited, that remain eternally stamped in our happy file. To hurdles we’ve climbed. To the things that have shaped us. To people who’ve tested and made us. To everything we are.
Also, writing is a tribute to our readers. We think of them, out there, in the world, when we shape our words. We hope they’ll like them. We hope they’ll spot the little bits of trickery and tease we drop into our pages. We hope they’ll gather together the coincidences and foreshadowing we carefully created for them. I suppose, really, we hope they love us.
But often, writing is a very conscious tribute. We name characters after family members we love. We weave the characteristics of beloved friends into the people who wander our chapters. We drop in taxi drivers and social workers with names and traits that make us smile, because we know who they are, and so sometimes do others.
So I’m very excited that Anne Williams is kicking off my The Mountain in my Shoe blog tour because not only has she been a huge support, a lovely friend and a great reader, but she does it for joy, as a tribute really to words. And so I named one of my favourite characters after her in the book. And this little piece is a tribute to her, and to all she does for us writers, with her wonderful Being Anne blog.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that one! Thank you so much Louise – and, as I wipe away a little tear, I think I should share my review again, don’t you?
I must admit – just between you and me – I was quite nervous about this one. Louise Beech’s first novel, How To Be Brave, was so absolutely perfect – you’ll find my review here – that I really wondered quite how she was going to follow it up. And do you know, I really needn’t have worried at all…
This is – in many ways – a very different book from How To Be Brave. But it does share a lot that made that first book such a delight. First and foremost, there’s the quality of the writing – and the author has an innate ability to make you care about and feel deeply for all her characters, a deft touch in writing about emotions and relationships, while also producing a real page-turner of a story.
Bernadette won my heart in the first few vivid scene-setting chapters – as well as capturing her anguish at the loss of “the book”, we see a dissection of her relationship with her husband, gain a detailed picture of her home, and enough clues are left that this might not be the most perfect of marriages. The slow reveal of some of the incidents and exchanges that have brought Bernadette to this point in the story of her marriage – with more detail emerging as the story progresses – is exceptionally well done, with real insight into the realities of the less obvious kind of abuse to which she is subjected by her husband.
Then there is Conor, the child that Bernadette has befriended – but who has equally befriended her. He has a clear and endearing voice throughout, authentically childlike but reflecting the life experience that has shaped him, with his moving passion for everything to do with his hero Muhammad Ali for a whole range of believable and unbearably poignant reasons. Conor’s story is a heartbreaking one, and the book’s structure is the perfect way to tell it: the extracts from his lifebook, a documented history of a child’s life within the care system, punctuate the narrative and provide all the background and context the reader needs. We gain an insight into Conor’s earlier life and the lives of those people who have been key figures in it through the notes, extracts of reports and letters kept within its pages – these individuals have clear voices too, and in many cases we form opinions of our own about their actions.
There are lesser characters in this book – in the past and present day – that also leave an indelible impression. The taxi driver, Bob, was a particular favourite of mine, a bluff Yorkshireman not afraid of showing his feelings for someone he knows to be troubled. Conor’s various foster carers leave their own impressions for a whole variety of reasons, with the most recent, Anne, with a love and warmth that radiates from the pages, achieved through the smallest of touches and observations. I really liked Jim, Conor’s first social worker, too – we never meet him, but his badly handwritten notes recur within the lifebook and are a wonderful reminder that officialdom can, just sometimes, have a caring side.
The sense of place in this book is tremendous. Set primarily in and around Hull and East Yorkshire, the dark waters of the Humber are a constant presence, with the ominous foghorn heard at night, lightened only by the twinkling lights of the bridge. The claustrophobic Tower Rise apartment almost has the presence of another character – with its bookshelves, pantry, damp stain on the wall, and the line of trees that protect it and offer Bernadette solace.
And as if all this isn’t enough, I haven’t even mentioned the story that drives the narrative – perhaps not entirely unpredictable, but still a tense edge-of-your-seat thriller of a read where lives and futures are under threat, full of excitement and incident and unexpected twists and turns.
But for me, this book wasn’t so much about the story at its centre but about the hopes, dreams and futures of the people who are part of it. Above all, it was about what might happen when the excitement is over – when Bernadette and Conor have overcome the mountains, and deserve a happy ending so much that you ache in the hope that it might happen. You may put the book down when it ends, but it will remain in your thoughts for a very long time thereafter.
Do make sure you follow all the other stops on the tour, won’t you?
About the author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show. The Mountain in My Shoe was longlisted for the 2016 Not the Booker Prize.